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Stuart Lustig, MD, MPH

Position: Asylum Network Member
Affiliation: University of California, San Francisco
Stuart Lustig, MD, MPH

I am a board certified adult and child psychiatrist and currently the Director of Child Psychiatry Training at University of California San Francisco. I've been a member of the Asylum Network since 1997 and have evaluated dozens of applicants for political asylum.

I was initially prompted to begin volunteering for the Asylum Network because my father lost several family members in the Holocaust. Being the descendent of refugees, I think I am naturally drawn to this work. I've also been fortunate to travel widely, to countries where citizens cannot take for granted the basic rights many of us enjoy: freedom of speech, access to clean water, and the expectation of reaching adulthood alive and well. In the same way that we enjoy those rights because of the efforts and sacrifices of our predecessors, I believe we have an ethical obligation to advocate for those who are less fortunate than we are.

Although I no longer live in Boston, for several years when I lived just steps away from PHR's headquarters, I attended monthly meetings of the Asylum Network. Asylum Network volunteers congregated to support each other in this challenging but rewarding work, and to learn more from each other and from outside experts. I vividly remember hopeful discussions about how we could forge a dialogue with asylum officers and immigration judges who adjudicate asylum claims. With these early discussions in mind, I published a paper in a legal journal on how symptoms of trauma may appear to reduce perceived credibility in the courtroom. I plan to distribute this perspective to all judges to help minimize their suspicions of the memory problems and emotional flatness (for example) characteristic of trauma survivors that adjudicators might otherwise mistake for lying. Several of us from PHR also published an analysis of five years of Asylum Network outcomes. We decided it was important to let everyone know that the combination of medical documentation and legal counsel very substantially increases bona fide asylum seekers' chances of earning the legal relief they deserve.

Joining the Asylum Network is a very effective way to potentiate the outstanding training that we as health professionals already have. Our knowledge of health and illness is always timely, significant, and credible. The Asylum Network enables us to influence other sectors of society, such as the legal system, on behalf of those who need and deserve our help the most. I can't think of a more worthy way to give back and to help improve the world, one life at a time.